Backpacking Stove vs. Campfire Cooking

“Why do I need a backpacking stove when I can just build a campfire?” I kept asking myself that question every time I went on a weekend backpacking trip before I decided to try it out. Today I tend to always prefer a stove for cooking.
Cooking over a wood fire is the most inexpensive and basic way to cook food. The crackling flames and the aroma of the burning wood create a nostalgic and rustic ambiance. However, it’s important to note that cooking over a fire is restricted in some places, and building and maintaining a campfire can be more challenging than it seems. On the other hand, backpacking stoves have evolved over time and are reliable, quick to start, safe, and highly controllable. However, the main issue with backpacking stoves for most people is the additional effort of packing up, storing fuel, lugging supplies, and cleaning up after each use. The fuels used in stoves are flammable and require diligent packing, storing, and safeguarding against a fiery accident. There are certainly pros and cons to each choice. Consider them both and make the choice that best suits your unique situation and activity type.

Pros of Backpacking Stoves:

  1. Convenience: Backpacking stoves are lightweight, compact, and easy to carry, making them ideal for hikers on the go. They provide a reliable source of heat to cook your meals quickly and efficiently. Many stoves are designed to work well even in the coldest temperatures and environments where wood is impossible to find.
  2. Efficiency: Stoves allow you to boil water rapidly, cook food evenly, and control the heat intensity. This precision can be especially beneficial when preparing intricate meals or dealing with challenging weather conditions.
  3. Environmental Considerations: Stoves have a lower impact on the environment compared to campfires, as they leave no trace and do not contribute to deforestation. They utilize minimal fuel and produce less smoke, making them an eco-friendly choice. Even wood-burning stoves are designed to follow the leave-no-trace principles.
  4. Safety: Even wood-burning backpacking stoves keep the flame contained in a small area and burn fuel efficiently, so you’ll need a smaller fire to get the same heat.

Cons of Backpacking Stoves:

  1. Fuel Dependency: Backpacking stoves require fuel, which adds weight to your pack and necessitates careful planning. If you run out of fuel, you’ll be unable to cook your meals unless you find an alternative source.
  2. Limited Ambiance: While stoves offer convenience, they lack the cozy ambiance of a crackling campfire. For some backpackers, the experience of gathering around a campfire and enjoying its warmth is an essential part of the outdoor experience.
  3. Added weight: Even though modern stoves can be very lightweight and compact, you’ll still need to carry them in your backpack along with fuel, pot, utensils, and whatever else you might need for cooking.

Pros of Campfire Cooking:

  1. Traditional Experience: Cooking over a campfire connects us to our primal roots, evoking a sense of adventure and nostalgia. The mesmerizing flames and the sound of crackling wood add a unique charm to the camping experience.
  2. Versatility: Campfire cooking allows you to experiment with various cooking methods such as grilling, roasting, and baking. It provides a rustic and authentic flavor to your meals, enhancing the overall outdoor experience.

Cons of Campfire Cooking:

  1. Environmental Impact: Building a campfire can have a significant impact on the environment, particularly in fragile ecosystems. Gathering firewood may cause deforestation and disturb wildlife habitats.
  2. Safety Concerns: Campfire cooking involves inherent risks, including the potential for accidental burns or wildfires. It requires proper knowledge and adherence to fire safety protocols.
  3. Prohibited: Lots of parks prohibit fires during the summer and during dry spells. Campfires can lead to dangerous situations that can lead to forest fires.
  4. Limited firewood: When it’s been raining a lot, finding enough dry firewood for a campfire can be daunting.
  5. Effort: Gathering the firewood, building the fire, and keeping it going takes effort in itself. In addition to that, you can’t easily control the heat output so making intricate meals might prove to be a tough challenge.

Do You Need a Backpacking Stove?

Let’s make it clear, you do not need a backpacking stove for overnight backpacking trips. Stove-free or stoveless backpacking is a quite popular thing to do. Leaving your stove and fuel at home can greatly reduce the amount of weight that you carry around on the trail. The most popular alternatives to backpacking stoves are cooking over a fire, cold-soaking, and no-cook strategy.

Cold-Soaking Strategy

First off, what does cold soaking even mean? Cold soaking is a no-cook food preparation method where dehydrated foods are soaked in cold water until they are rehydrated. Keep in mind that you have to eat cold meals and must think ahead to have your meals ready by the time you want to eat. But if you’re hiking in a hot area, don’t care much about hot food, or are a planner by nature, these might not be disadvantages at all. For example, you can soak ramen noodles, oats, or other dehydrated foods. It’ll take longer to soften up than it would with warm water even up to a few hours for certain foods.

No-Cook Strategy

One of the simplest ways to hike without a stove is to only bring foods that you don’t have to cook. Several foods are suitable for consumption without cooking, such as fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds, energy bars, canned tuna, chicken or beans, bread, and crackers. For those seeking convenience without compromising taste, bringing pre-made meals can be a game-changer. Just pack up your homemade lasagna, pasta, sandwiches, or whatever else you wish that would preserve well without a fridge and you could eat without heating up.


Whether you choose a backpacking stove or campfire cooking, both methods have their merits and drawbacks. Consider the duration of your trip, desired cooking precision, environmental impact, and the experience you seek when making your decision. Remember, the most important thing is to relish the time spent outdoors, connecting with nature, and enjoying a nourishing meal that fuels your adventures. Happy cooking and happy trails!

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